9 Ways Harvey Milk Helped LGBTQ People

May 22 is Harvey Milk Day in California. Read on to learn more about how Harvey Milk helped LGBTQ people. 

Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) was an American politician. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. This made him the first openly gay elected official in California history. Milk held the position for 11 months before being assassinated by a disgruntled former colleague. 

His time in office was short. But during his mandate, Milk made a name for himself. He was a champion for LGBTQ people, as well as for other minorities.

Now that we have some background, let’s get into the 9 ways Harvey Milk made lives better for LGBTQ people.

1. He Paved The Way For LGBTQ Politicians

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California history when he won the position of San Francisco City Supervisor in 1977. Although he only served 11 months before being assassinated, his bravery encouraged other LGBTQ politicians to come out. 

For example, soon after his assassination, Massachusetts Congressmen Gerry Studds and Barney Frank acknowledged their homosexuality. Even more interesting, Rafael Mandelman, another openly gay man, currently holds Milk’s former Supervisor seat.

And these are just the people directly tied to Milk. His legacy has undoubtedly inspired hundreds of LGBTQ people to run for public office. In fact, as of 2020, 843 LGBTQ people hold elected office in the United States, representing a 21 percent jump from 2019. 

2. He Sponsored A Bill Banning Discrimination Against LGBTQ People

As a City Supervisor, Milk helped LGBTQ people by sponsoring a bill banning LGBTQ discrimination in San Francisco. It prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. 

The ordinance passed with only one dissenting vote. San Francisco’s mayor signed the measure into law on March 21, 1978. After the bill passed Milk called it “the most stringent gay rights law in the country.”

3. Harvey Milk Helped LGBTQ People Get Jobs

During his time in office, Milk forged an alliance with the Teamsters Union and helped gay people in the process. The Teamsters wanted to boycott Coors beer because the company wasn’t unionized. Milk wanted to boycott Coors because the company discriminated against LGBTQ people. 

By bringing the LGBTQ community and the union together, Harvey Milk helped LGBTQ people get jobs and got Coors products out of Castro district bars.

4. He Fought Proposition 6

California Proposition 6 was a state-level ballot initiative in the 1978 election. If approved, it would ban gay teachers and gay rights supporters from working in California schools.

Harvey Milk spent a good portion of the summer and fall of 1978 campaigning against it as part of the No On 6 campaign. Throughout the process, he gained support from political superstars of the time, including President Jimmy Carter and former California Governor Ronald Reagan. 

Thanks to Milk’s political savvy and hard work, Prop 6 went from having widespread support to being soundly defeated by more than 1 million votes. This was an enormous accomplishment in and of itself, but even more so considering the strong anti-gay climate in the US at that time. 

5. He Formed A Pro-LGBTQ Business Association

 After some merchants in the Castro district tried to prevent two gay men from opening a store, Harvey Milk helped LGBTQ business owners in his neighborhood by founding the Castro Village Association. It was the first LGBTQ business association in the US at the time. 

As president, Milk organized the Castro Street Fair in 1974 to attract new customers to the area. Thanks to its success, the Castro Village Association became a powerful group for gay merchants. It also became a blueprint for other LGBTQ communities in the United States.

6. He Encouraged LGBTQ People To Come Out

Milk was a strong advocate for LGBTQ people coming out. In fact, in one of his best-known speeches, Milk talked about the American ideal of equality

He stated “Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets… We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.”

He believed that the more gay people came out of the closet, the more their families and friends would support protections for their equal rights. What’s more, Milk understood that most people didn’t hate LGBTQ people. Rather, they were afraid of them. If they came out, people could see that LGBTQ people were successful, productive members of society.

7. His Name Is An Inspiration, Even Today

Thanks to his bravery and tireless work, Milk has become an LGBTQ icon. As such, several public schools, parks, and LGBTQ centers bear his name.

His legacy is especially visible in San Francisco, where a federal building, a public recreation center, a branch of the public library, and a public plaza all bear his name. San Francisco International Airport also named a terminal after him. That makes him the first and only LGBTQ leader to have an airport terminal named after them. 

Outside of San Francisco, Milk was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2009. The state also honors him by celebrating his Harvey Milk Day on his birthday (May 22nd).  

As if that weren’t impressive enough, Milk made Time magazine’s list of the “100 most important people of the 20th century.” He also posthumously received the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Obama praised Milk’s “visionary courage and conviction” in fighting discrimination. 

8. He Inspired The Creation Of A Non-Profit Organization

Milk’s work inspired his nephew Stuart Milk and his campaign manager Anne Kronenberg to found the Milk Foundation. 

The not-for-profit organization’s goals are to empower local, regional, national, and global organizations to fully realize the power of Milk’s story. Their work centers around creating a better future for LGBTQ people, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, the young, and the disabled.

9. He’s A Martyr For LGBTQ And Human Rights

Harvey Milk became a martyr when he was assassinated by his former colleague and anti-gay activist Dan White. He left behind a great legacy when he died.

He influenced LGBTQ politics, but many also remember him as a champion of human rights. His death is a painful reminder of the length and difficulty on the road to a more just future.

La Fuente Celebrates Harvey Milk Day

As Californians and LGBTQ advocates, we’re happy to celebrate the life and work of Harvey Milk on May 22nd. His work, advocacy, and bravery were fundamental in improving the rights of the LGBTQ community. He’s an inspiration to organizations like ours aiming to make the lives of LGBTQ people better each and every day. 

If you’d like to learn more about what La Fuente is doing to change the face of LGBTQ substance abuse treatment, check out our About Us page or fill out the form below. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about our Los Angeles treatment center. 

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